Danish Duo Wants To Make Year-Round Morels An Affordable Reality

In the culinary world, morels are one of the most coveted species of mushrooms, bringing their earthy, woodsy flavor to a variety of dishes, including spring pasta with peas or simply enriched with butter and cream and heaped atop a slice of toast. According to the New York Times, morels are a highly seasonal mushroom that pop up in the woodlands of New York and its surrounding areas in the spring before the weather turns hot. They're a favorite among foragers, who look for the funghi among the fallen leaves on the forest floor.

If you've ever had a morel, you won't forget how it looks – a brownish, webbed cap sitting atop a short white stem — and you certainly won't forget how it tastes. According to Simply Recipes, morels boast an intense nuttiness that even verges on smokiness in some of the darker-hued varieties.

Highly coveted by chefs, morels are typically sold for up to $50 per pound fresh and $200 per pound dried — a hefty price that is mostly due to the fact that the morels on the market are typically foraged in the wild, which is a labor-intensive practice (via the New York Times). But that might soon change, thanks to a pair of Danish twin brothers who have been laboring to make reliable crops of morels that are cultivated indoors in a climate-controlled environment a reality that's accessible to chefs and home cooks alike.

The Morel Project seeks to cultivate large amounts of morel mushrooms indoors

Jacob and Kartsen Kirk have been working on an indoor cultivation method that would reliably produce large harvests of the prized funghi since 1988, when they founded The Morel Project. Longtime amateur biologists who have been interested in morels since they were undergrads, according to New York Times, the Kirks' Morel Project focuses on developing a "controlled indoor cultivation of black morel mushrooms all-year-round under well defined conditions in climate chambers."

While morels have previously been cultivated in the U.S. and around the world, according to the Times, these efforts have yielded variable harvests. The Kirks, however, told the Times that after many years of research and troubleshooting, they have hit upon a method that produces large and predictable morel harvests, with last year's Morel Project crop yielding more than nine pounds of mushrooms over a 22-week cycle, or about 20 pounds per square yard.

Morels cultivated indoors could really bring down the cost of this pricey mushroom, as production costs would be about the same as those incurred raising white button mushrooms (via the New York Times). As of yet, the brothers have mostly given away their morels to their investors and to chefs, including the Danish chef Kenneth Toft-Hansen, but in the future, their method could potentially help indoor-cultivated morels reach the market. If that happens, Toft-Hansen told The Times, "It will be a game changer for the food industry."